Darwinism in a Smart City

Darwinism in a Smart City

14-Jun-2018 by Manuela Krull-Mancinelli

The increasing digitalization of our society splits our world into different camps. People who can and want to cope with the digitalization and people who already have difficulty with the current developments.

The first group talks about the new options and admires every step forward in this field. Whereas the second group seems to find it an undesired development or keep describing it as a hype that will pass. ‘Everything will go back to the old days.’

How to deal with a digitized city, often referred to as a Smart City, where only part of the population understands or desires the new functionalities?

It’s a fact that innovations will not stop or return to earlier stages. Disruptive innovation is amongst us since mankind and it is needed to bring new economic opportunities.

We have seen this during prior industrial revolutions, like for example during the First Industrial Revolution (1760) where the invention of the Steam Engine pushed the textile and the iron industry to increased efficiency, leading to an enormous shift towards a whole new and different economy. Where prior to the invention of the Steam Engine most of the people handmade their own clothes, furniture and tools at home, with the venue of the new machines more efficient and productive factories emerged leading to new jobs and the demand for new types of products. It was the beginning of mass production. And the beginning of the move towards urban regions.

A similar and maybe faster development was seen a hundred years later during the Second Industrial Revolution (1870), where several new inventions followed one after the other. Enabled by new technologies such as new ways for electric power transmission and new ways of long-distance communication, a significant amount of inventions was introduced, helping different markets to become more efficient and to grow. Again a hundred years later, during the Third Industrial Revolution (1969), automation of processes was introduced, making industries even more efficient and able to grow.

So the concept of disruptive innovation is not really new. However, the difference today is that with the current 4th Industrial Revolution, which is happening right now, the impact and disruption go much faster and seems to have more impact than the ones before. Where the first three Industrial Revolutions changed production processes and attracted people to urban regions, this Fourth Industrial Revolution is entering and changing our daily lives in another way. It penetrates into our homes, cars, bikes and even into our minds and bodies by an increased interaction between human and machine, using different types of sensors and applications on top of it, sometimes replacing parts of our human beings.

Due to the latest Industrial Revolution, we are challenged to discuss more ethical topics such as ‘to what extent do we want machines to make decisions for us’ and ‘are we willing to outsource our own thinking and decision-making process to a machine’. An even more extreme though is the idea of Transhumanism, where the aim is to transform the human condition by technologies in order to enhance the human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities[1]. As with every change we see resistance to all these changes, but on the other side, as said before, innovation is needed and cannot be stopped.

From a scientific point of view, it seems fantastic when brilliant innovations are announced in the press, promising to make our lives easier. Who doesn’t want to track his pet or keep an eye on his house 24×7 while not being there? It’s great to save money by only switching on the heating in your house while traveling home or your car arriving because it just knows you want to go on your way home.

The point is if only part of the population understands the latest developments, what will be the impact? Imagine a car, a billboard on the street or a fridge in your house suddenly starts communicating to you and you don’t know how to deal with it? What if your ‘watch’ is not showing the time anymore but very tiny letters and colors and you cannot get any information out of it?

What if you are less interested or less developed in the digital age and long back to the times where you could visit a bank office rather than using a computer or a smartphone or buy a train ticket at the reception with a real human being behind it?

We live in a diverse society where a big part of society is limitedly used to deal with digitization. And yet we are filling our cities, mobility means, and buildings with more sensors and digital devices than ever.

Similar to prior Industrial Revolutions, the ones not keeping up with the new developments and required skill sets stay behind and are less benefiting from the advancements. Whereas people who are learning all these new skills are in high demand. This last group will get the jobs easier and often better paid.

But today it’s not only about jobs and salaries. It starts to become considerably important in order to live or to survive. What if there are no retailers any more and you can only order fresh milk by leaving this all to the decision-making process of your fridge while you have no clue how to get this all working or to influence it?

Today a lot of us find it pretty standard for our power supplier to read the metrics remotely and to pay by just swiping our bank card over a machine or entering a code online.

We are testing different types of mobility. Like drones, self-driving cars, self-flying airplanes and delivery robots. We outsource our activities more and more to machines.

Since innovation will not stop, this will become the new normal and it will impact our lives and requirements.

Picture a fully digitalized house and ditto mobility, equipped with sensors, intelligence and decision making power as the new standard. Would your requirements be different when you search for a house? Is your current house still that attractive and easy to sell? And to whom? The same goes for your car and garage: if we have streets filled with intelligent and self-driving cars, would you still need one of your own or for what purpose would you need a garage at your house? Does this new normal change the location you want your house to be built? Will we still have public transport?

Internet of Things, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality were probably not there when your house or car was built.[2]

Did you check how many sensors were in your home or if AI was improving your car? And if you did, did you check the impact on your security? It’s only recently that people start to realize they have a digital life next to their physical life and hence they need to think about their digital security too.

Every innovation is based on the latest technologies, disrupting the previous ones. How to adapt to this new world without the required skill sets?

We are entering an era where new technology confronts us with an inescapable situation: we all have to learn digital skills. These skills of the 21st century are material in order to survive. With the same eyes, we should look at our houses, cars and other belongings. In order to survive, we need the right skills and equipment. Our requirements for living, working and mobility will change rapidly, either because we want to or because we are forced to due to the latest developments around us.

Digital Twin

The Digital Twins[3], as we often call the digital representation of a physical asset, process or system, pushes changes even further. By making a digital version of a physical object, adding intelligence and data we can experiment and develop easier and faster.

In the case of a Smart City, we see a similar thing with one difference: a physical and a digital society coexist and interact. The digital version is not there just to simulate the physical one, but it is almost like a second dimension we are living in.

If you are not part of the digital society you will not only miss parts of it, soon you will be left out for a big part.

Darwinism in a Smart City

“A lot will change and the ones who will survive are not the most intelligent ones but the ones able to adapt to change.”

We know this very true statement for quite some time now. However, until today this was more regarding human behavior. Today we see the same changes rapidly coming in for objects as well. For example, look at real estate and mobility. Houses without any option for internet connectivity are less popular, to say the least. Cars running on diesel are more and more abandoned while electric cars become more and more popular. By the introduction of Blockchain, the concept of Peer2Peer is implemented in many applications and introduces a more distributed society. The distributed concept is not only applied to payments and other finances. It also shows up in areas like energy, sharing economy and contracts in general.

In the long run, there is no way we will survive without being part of the other half of society, the digital part.

Today, to fight this undesirable situation of a split in society, where people, houses, cars and other aspects of our daily lives are valued very differently than before the current Industrial Revolution, we have to work hard on awareness and education.

The new options encouraged by new technologies will continue to change our daily lives. We’ll have to find a way to deal with the fast digitalization process. Whether we like it or not.

How to survive a Smart City?

Cities become fuller every day. Leading to annoying situations such as inaccessibility, rising prices, and environmental issues. Based on the current technologies many new initiatives come into the market, sometimes offered by start-ups. They bring us new ways to enjoy our lives in the city. Some of them involve digital communities in order to share products, they build and enhance the digital society. Others bring new platforms where traditional services in areas like finance or health are offered in a more efficient way. In time, due to these new offerings bringing along cost savings, the traditional ones will be pushed out of the market.

In the long run, it will become inevitable to need digital skills. In order to survive a Smart City, we will have to find a way to match the speed of developments with the speed of digital awareness and education. It is us who change requirements so it is us to prepare for Future Cities.

It starts with sharing the awareness of the sense of urgency. Things will not go back to the old days as some people say.

Awareness should be followed by education and training. And finally, when people are more educated on the digital society, the implementation and actual use of new platforms and services can be embraced.

By that time we all should be educated about the possibilities and certainly also about threats of the digital society. We will have adjusted our requirements, we know which questions to ask.

During this journey, of becoming more aware and educated, theory and practice work the best hand in hand. Funny enough all these new technologies could bring us closer than ever. Assuming the more digitalized citizens want to help the less digitalized. How wonderful would it be if this could lead to more social interaction.

Furthermore, the trend towards a more distributed economy and society could bring us back to where we came from before the First Industrial Revolution: citizens living in both urban and rural areas, where today they have the means for long distance communication, to easily commute and to share and benefit from the latest developments from any place in the world at any time. People would finally move back to rural areas, saving time and environment. The cities would be less crowded, a healthier place to live and with increased accessibility.

Will that be the impact of Smart Cities?

 

[1] Technology versus Humanity, Gerd Leonhard

[2] Veuger, J. (2017), Een wendbare vastgoedeconomie met: Disruptie & Blockchain.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_twin

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